Kyle Farmer provided important depth for the Twins throughout the 2023 season, but he was in danger of being released Friday because of MLB's deadline for teams to guarantee contracts for the 2024 season.
The Twins, who are expected to shed payroll for the coming season, opted to keep Farmer and his rising salary on their roster. For now, at least. Farmer will likely be at the center of trade talks this winter.
The two players the Twins released Friday were relievers Jovani Moran and Ronny Henriquez.
Friday was the MLB's deadline to guarantee one-year contracts to players who are eligible for salary arbitration. The Twins tendered a contract to all seven of their arbitration-eligible players: Farmer, Caleb Thielbar, Ryan Jeffers, Alex Kirilloff, Willi Castro, Jorge Alcala and Nick Gordon. Farmer and Thielbar are set to become free agents after the 2024 season.
Moran and Henriquez weren't eligible for arbitration, but they were released to clear their spots on the 40-man roster. Moran, a lefthander who posted a 5.43 ERA in 43 appearances with the Twins this year, is scheduled to undergo Tommy John surgery, which is expected to sideline him for the entire 2024 season. He could re-sign with the Twins on a two-year minor league deal.
Henriquez didn't pitch for the Twins this year, yielding a 5.68 ERA in 57 innings out of the bullpen at Class AAA. The Twins have an interest in signing the 23-year-old Henriquez to a minor league contract, and the decision to release him Friday bypasses putting him on waivers.
Farmer, the 33-year-old infielder, represented the biggest decision for the Twins. He performed well in his role, and he was beloved in the clubhouse, taking on a mentorship role with rookie second baseman Edouard Julien. Farmer, however, is due a raise on his $5.85 million salary from last season, which is a large price tag for a backup infielder.
It's a weak free agent market for second basemen and shortstops this year, so there will likely be some trade interest in Farmer. He batted .256 with 11 homers and 46 RBI in 336 at-bats last season, while posting an above-average .781 OPS against lefty pitching.
The Twins acquired Farmer in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds last offseason when the Reds sought to move his salary before guaranteeing his contract.
Thielbar, Jeffers, Castro and Kirilloff were locks to be tendered contracts because of their roles on the roster. All four players, according to MLB Trade Rumors' projections, are expected to command salaries at less than $4 million for the upcoming season.
Thielbar, who had a 3.23 ERA across 36 relief appearances last season, is the top lefthander in the bullpen. Jeffers started every game at catcher in the postseason after he had a breakout offensive season. Castro was arguably the biggest surprise on the roster last season, standing out with his speed and defensive versatility.
Kirilloff underwent a bursectomy in his right shoulder in October, but it was less extensive than the Twins initially feared. Kirilloff, the Twins' starting first baseman in the playoffs, hit .270 with 11 homers and 41 RBI in 88 games last season.
Alcala and Gordon aren't expected to command salaries much higher than the league minimum, but there was some uncertainty around them because they missed most of the 2023 season with injuries.
Gordon, who hit .176 in 34 games before he fractured his right shin, is out of minor league options, but his defensive versatility is helpful. Alcala made 11 relief appearances before he went on the injured list because of a forearm strain, though he pitched well at Class AAA at the end of the year.
Teams have until mid-January to reach agreements with arbitration-eligible players for their 2024 salaries to avoid an arbitration hearing.